It’s an Adelaide Thing

Senior Chief Superintendent David Whiteman QPM sat comfortably on a hard wooden form in the witness waiting room outside Courtroom 2. And by “comfortably” I mean in his case erect, composed and angular, like the sharp creases pressed into his uniform trousers. A small portfolio of burnished leather sat on his lap. His hands rested open and at ease atop the case. He looked straight ahead. If fat, battered women with children to different fathers distracted him, he showed no sign. After all, this was the Adelaide Magistrates Court, the destination of complaints such women brought daily to the officers under his command. Yes, my old boss looked as I remembered him. Grey hair now, but mine was greying too, at least around the edges. At the top of his original career, I was still at the bottom of mine, second career though it was in my case. How would we fare when I cross-examined him?

Inspector Whiteman was a god back in 1977. I was a twenty-year-old spotty-faced probationary constable when we met in June. I had graduated from the police academy after three years training only the week before. I found myself wrapped in a greatcoat against an Adelaide winter, the junior man in a partnership policing the tough northern suburbs. My partner was hardly my equal.

“How long have you been working here in Elizabeth, Tim?” I asked.

“Five years, mate. Port Adelaide before that. Started out walking the beat in Hindley Street. What’s a fuzz nuts like you doing in D1 Division straight out of Bonehead College?”

“Dunno. I applied for it because I live out this way at home with Mum and Dad. So, yeah, here I am.”

“Why join The Job?”

“My dad was in The Job. Retired in ’75 after forty years.”

“Jesus. Forty years.”

Tim pulled a Woodbine out of its soft pack with his lips while steering one-handed. The powder-blue Kingswood patrol car cruised the early morning back street with its lights off.

“Your eyes adjust to the gloom better,” said Tim. “Gives you an edge over the hoons … what’s that?”

Tim and I looked towards a car with its lights off being pushed along the street by four dark-clad figures 100 metres ahead of us. Suddenly, we heard the car’s engine start, the silhouettes jumped in both rear doors, on went the headlights and away it flew, the engine droning under heavy acceleration.

Tim hit our headlights and poured on the speed. Within seconds we’d drawn close to the rear of a 1964 EH Holden sedan, close enough to see three of the young faces turn to look at us through the rear window. Tim threw the toggle switch on the dashboard to activate the single blue light mounted on the roof. When the EH threw a sharp left, Tim spat out his unlit smoke, hit the second toggle switch to activate the alternating horns, and picked up the radio handpiece.

“Delta 21 in pursuit.”

The controller responded: “All patrols stand down. Delta 21 is in pursuit. Location, 21.”

“Delta 21, travelling north on Harvey Road, Elizabeth South, towards Fairfield Road. In pursuit of 1964 Holden sedan SA rego Romeo-Uniform-Sierra-fife-niner-seven. Five, maybe six occupants. Estimated speed eighty to ninety k’s.”

“Roger, 21. Any patrol in the Elizabeth South area to assist Delta 21 with a high-speed pursuit of … yes … all patrols, this is a stolen car.” Tim’s description followed.

I learned that night that few things get a copper going like a good car chase.

“Delta 19, we’re nearby!”

“Delta 25 on the way,” announced the crew in the panel van “cage car”.

Tim had thrown the microphone to me. “Tell ’em west on Fairfield!” he screamed.

“Delta 21. We’re heading west on Fairfield. Hundred-plus k’s,” I said in a quavering voice.

Fairfield Road is a main thoroughfare. I saw three blue lights fifty metres apart travelling east towards us and the EH, on which we were gaining. The car lurched left into a side street. I heard the sound of rubber protesting above the alternating horns.

“Delta 21. We’re in Vidor Street, heading sou-west. Christ! Their tyre’s gone! Their tyre’s gone!”

I had seen the right-hand front tyre burst and shred under the strain. The car zigzagged to a halt. We were right behind them. Help was right behind us. As the four sedan doors opened, the lads abandoning ship were met by a tidal wave of navy blue.

I grabbed a lanky youth in stovepipe jeans and ripple-soled shoes as he climbed out the back door. “You’re under arrest,” I blurted, surprised by the novelty of the words. The kid stood quite still as I took him by the right arm and christened my brand-new Smith & Wesson handcuffs by manacling first one wrist then the other.

The two of us stood there a little awkwardly, I now recall, dumb spectators as we were to the round-up of his mates. That’s when Inspector Whiteman appeared.

Delta Trojan One, as the duty inspector’s call sign went, strode into the middle of our group as porch lights from nearby houses went on.

“Good morning, gentlemen. Tim, I think this is your bag?”

“Yes, sir. I’ve arrested the driver for illegal use of a motor vehicle. The car has been hotwired.”

“Very good. And you, who are you?”

“Probationary Constable Daintree, sir. I’ve arrested this passenger for illegal use, too,” I said.

“Yes, well … he was in the back seat, is that right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“If we can’t prove he knew the car was stolen, he’s not guilty of anything. I suggest you quietly remove the handcuffs.” Addressing my prisoner directly, Whiteman said, “We’ll let you off this time, son. Let this be a lesson to you.”

I searched for the key to my non-departmental ’cuffs.

“Well, Daintree?”

“I … I … I’ve left my key at home, sir.”

“You bloody idiot! Get it! Fast!”

Mum and Dad lived not too far away. Young Ripple-Soles was let loose within ten minutes. He legged it. This was 1977. Nothing more was said. By anyone.

This all played out before my mind’s eye as I stood looking at Senior Chief Superintendent Whiteman in the witness waiting room, from both five metres and twelve years away. Doubting he’d remember me, I said nothing to him. In any event, what talking I’d do would be wholly in defence of my client. My former boss was to be the sole witness for the prosecution.

His Honour Henry Balfour Arnett Menzies (pronounced Ming-iss) OAM QC, the Deputy Chief Magistrate of South Australia, was presiding in Courtroom 2. A court officer walked into the waiting room after morning tea and said in quick and routine succession: “Terence Arthur Fromm. Terence Arthur Fromm. Terence Arthur Fromm.”

I walked into court followed by Mr Fromm, who in turn preceded Mrs Fromm by some few feet. The couple were in their late fifties, Terry having taken early retirement after being made redundant in the foundry where he’d worked as a moulder for forty-two years. His Honour examined the summons handed him by his clerk and looked at me through his thick glasses. A lazy left eye transfixed me for a moment, so he repeated his question: “I asked you what is to happen in this matter of Fromm?”

“I’m sorry, your Honour. My name is Daintree and I appear for Mr Fromm, who is present in court. The matter has been set for hearing and will be defended, if your Honour pleases.”

“I see on the summons the witness is a senior police officer, Mr Whiteman. I should declare that I have in the past met Mr Whiteman at charity receptions and a Queen’s Birthday Honours dinner. In addition, I have followed his career in the press and heard him give evidence in past cases. Beyond this, I am not acquainted with the man. Does this present you with any problems of ‘apprehended bias’, as legal authority describes it?”

“No, your Honour. I’ve already canvassed this possibility with the defendant.”

“Very well. Stand up please, Mr Fromm. You stand charged in that on the twelfth day of June 1988 on Main North Road at Gepps Cross you did drive a car at 105 kilometres per hour in a sixty kilometre per hour zone, a speed dangerous to the public. How do you plead?”

“Not guilty, sir,” said Mr Fromm.

“Very well. Yes, Sergeant?”

“If your Honour pleases, Senior Chief Superintendent David Whiteman will tell the court he was driving his unmarked police vehicle, a Sigma sedan, south along Main North Road when he saw the defendant driving his white Toyota Corona ahead of him at a fast speed. He accelerated his police car to follow and time Mr Fromm for 400 metres at a constant speed of 105 kilometres per hour. Any speed exceeding forty kilometres per hour above the area limit is deemed a speed dangerous to the public and carries licence disqualification. I call Mr Whiteman.”

The senior policeman entered court, bowed, and stood in the witness box. He faced the magistrate as he took the oath. The men did one another the courtesy of lofty disinterest. It’s an Adelaide thing, I thought, my outsider’s memories of law school welling up.

Whiteman gave his evidence-in-chief just as the prosecutor had outlined. Now it was my turn.

“Mr Whiteman, marked patrol cars are fitted with lights and sirens to warn the public when necessity demands they exceed the speed limit, correct?”


“Your Sigma sedan had no such warning devices?”


“The law permits police to exceed the speed limit when duty calls, but not to travel at a speed or in a manner dangerous to the public, yes?”


“You always observe that law yourself, true?”


“You followed Mr Fromm at the same speed you say he was travelling, correct?”


“Then at whatever speed you and Mr Fromm were travelling at, you were satisfied it was not a speed dangerous to the public. Now isn’t that the truth?”

Menzies intervened with: “Now before you answer, Chief Superintendent, I must caution you that you are not obliged to answer a question in a way that may incriminate you of having committed some offence. Should you choose to say nothing in accordance with that right, then so be it.”

“Thank you, your Honour. Since I don’t quite know how to answer such a strange question, I shall avail myself of that right.”

“Yes. Quite. Anything further, Mr Daintree?”

“No, your Honour.”

“I thought not. I’ll adjourn for luncheon until 2.15.”

My client was convicted of the charge but dealt with as a “rare” exception warranting no licence disqualification. There would now be no question of appeal.

“In England, the law is open to every man,” goes the old saying. “Just like the foyer of the Ritz.”

Trevor Bailey lives in rural New South Wales. His story “Security” appeared in the January-February 2022 issue, and several of his poems have appeared in Quadrant in recent years.


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